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.95 / 256 pages), veteran radio personality Larry Morrow tells the story of how he started his broadcasting career and adopted Cleveland as his new hometown. In the following excerpt, Larry shares the story of how the rock and roll station WIXY 1260 changed Cleveland radio and describes the key players behind the scenes. Excerpted from the book, This is Larry Morrow; My Life On and Off the Air © 2010 by Larry Morrow. All rights reserved. This text may not be reproduced in any form or manner without written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.
WIXY 1260 was now unstoppable. We had all embraced George Brewer’s encouraging opinion that we were the newest and the best. Judging from the ratings, the Greater Cleveland marketplace clearly agreed. The Eclectic WIXY Supermen The core group of the WIXY Supermen did not represent the majesty of speech like our predecessors, Bill Randle and Phil McLean, who were both intellectuals and had been in the Cleveland market for a long time. While we were not academically vacuous, we were out to have fun and were marching to a beat of a different drummer. George made sure the WIXY Supermen were always a unified team. Even though we were all as different as a dog from a cat, George coached, taught, and guided us in our on-air deliveries and assured us the response from our listeners would ultimately crush our competition. George also kept us within ourselves and our individual personalities. If we caused uncharacteristic mistakes on the air, like talking over the vocal of a song, he immediately called us on it and helped us through it. George always reminded us of who we now were: simply the best. Our current successes left us confident, and we knew we could beat our competition by following his plan. Because of our enormously different broadcast styles, there was very little competition between the WIXY Supermen. You would think that with all these uniquely different ego-driven personalities there would be chaos, but the opposite was true. In retrospect, it was surprising to
me that there was never a power struggle for fame among us. We all threw in our lots for the betterment of WIXY 1260, maintaining a delicate balance among one another. There was also the unswerving loyalty to George. In the early development stage of WIXY, we partied often at George’s home near the radio station in Seven Hills, with his wife, Cathy, who made sure we were all well fed. When we were together, we referred to each other by our nicknames. We called Dick Kemp, Childe; Lou Kirby, My King; Jerry Brooke, Brookeberger; Bobby Magic, Magic Man; and I was simply, Duker. Oddly, we did not have a nickname for Mike Reineri. The Impish Mike Reineri I can distinctively remember two of Mike Reineri’s very funny Duker put-downs. While driving into the studio to replace Mike at 10 a.m., I heard him say, “The Duker has just arrived. By that I mean his nose is here; the rest of his body will be here in ten minutes.” Another memorable Duker put-down happened during one of our daily changeovers at 10 a.m. It was the first day of spring, and I was fashionably dressed in light green pants with a dark green shirt, a green and white striped tie, a green and white seersucker sport coat, and white, patent-leather shoes. When Mike introduced me he said, “You look like the president of a lizard factory.” I still laugh whenever I think about Mike’s quick-witted humor. Lou “King” Kirby Lou Kirby, our King, bought a long Cadillac limousine, painted it black, and had a kingly looking WIXY crest painted on the sides in gold. He wore a red velvet cape and a king’s crown. He always made sure he had a beautiful female chauffer him around town and to his record hops while he sat in the back seat. This was before the days of cell phones, so he carried a fake phone in his limo. I can remember riding with him; whenever we stopped at a red light, people couldn’t help but stare at this unusual site. Lou would then make the phone ring and say to the person looking on, “It’s for you.” Dick “Wilde Childe” Kemp I thought Dick Kemp the most extraordinary and entertaining nighttime personality I had ever heard—definitely one of a kind both on and off the air. He owned nighttime radio in Cleveland. One of his favorite lines was: “I’m the Wilde Childe. I live in the woods; I know all the trees by their first name.” The Wilde Childe was paradoxically different. He was both
disarmingly charming and dangerously playful. One night when I dropped by the radio station to pick up my mail, I thought I’d peek in the studio just to say hi to the Childe. There he was with his headphones on, singing to the music, stark naked! Another memorable episode with Childe occurred when Norm Wain called a WIXY staff meeting to meet our national sales reps from New York. Attendance was mandatory, which not only meant that we all had to be there, but we had to be dressed for the occasion. When the meeting began, the only one missing was Childe. Halfway through the meeting, you could hear and see in the distance the Childe riding his motorcycle down our 100-yard dirt driveway, wearing just his Bermudas and no shirt. When he arrived, Norm said, “Childe, you’re late. Why didn’t you call?” Dick Kemp responded, “I didn’t have a dime,” which drew a burst of laughter from all of us, including Norm. Dick Kemp was, by all admissions, our most unique entertainer and the most talked-about WIXY personality by teenagers. And the ratings reflected it. Dick was the Wilde Childe in every sense of the word. There was a radical on-air distinction between our different approaches to the audience. For example, I was known around the radio station as “Mother Morrow” because of the time of my shift, when most women were home during the day. Remember, this was the mid-’60s, just before women’s liberation gained momentum and women began leaving home for the workplace. We also had phrases that our audience knew and loved. I’ve given you some of Dick Kemp’s. Mine were: I’m here to get your heart to quivil and your liver to bivil. Ain’t nothin’ cookin’ but the peas in the pot, and they wouldn’t be cookin’ if the water wasn’t hot. Ain’t nothing shakin’ but the leaves on the trees, and they wouldn’t shakin’ if it wasn’t for the breeze. I’m here to put a little glide in your stride and some slip in your hip. I’m jam up, jelly tight, and peanut butter right. I knew these catch-phrases had caught on when people would come up to me and repeat one of them, or every once in awhile, all of them with the same funk and rock style that they were delivered.
Childe Goes Platinum? At this time, I was married to Pam Conn, and we wrote a song for the Wilde Childe on the new CLE-Town label called “Wilde Childe Freakout.” The hook was from Tommy Roe’s 1970 hit, “Jam Up Jelly Tight.” I’m still not sure who added the phrase “peanut butter right.” The song immediately sold 10,000 copies, with all the profits going to charity. After Dick Kemp left for our McKeesport, Pennsylvania, station, the phrase was so popular at WIXY that I began using it from time-to-time. To this day, many WIXY 1260 listeners give me credit for that phrase. Although we wrote part of it for him, the Childe made it quite popular. Ramping It Up During my first two years at WIXY, we were building our station unlike anything the market had ever seen and has not seen since. All of us were appearing at three to five record hops a week. I can vividly remember asking Norm if I could have one hundred pictures made of myself. I told him my plan was to visit shopping centers on the weekends and introduce myself to as many people as possible. I gave a picture to each person I met and asked them to listen to me on WIXY 1260. I wouldn’t leave the plaza until all the pictures were gone. Just eighteen months later, due to WIXY’s explosive growth, the appearance of a WIXY DJ at a shopping center would draw a crowd of two thousand. Norm encouraged me to begin calling people from the White Pages every day before my air shift. As I made each call, I would cross off the name of the person I spoke to so I would never make a duplicate call. In the early days of WIXY, when we weren’t that popular, I would spend an entire hour trying to get ten people to agree to listen to me. During my first two years of making those calls at 9 a.m., I called between fifty and sixty people because so many hung up on me. When they picked up the phone, I would say, “Hi, Mrs. Williams, I’m Larry Morrow, and I work at this new radio station called WIXY 1260. If you’ll listen to me today I will mention your name.” Starting year three, when the station finally caught on, almost every person I called listened to WIXY. In my sixth year at WIXY, I would begin calling at 9 a.m., and by 9:15, I had spoken to ten people and they all said they would listen for their names. The one souvenir of my six years at WIXY was the phone book; it had the names of over 17,000 people whom I had spoken to and had crossed off when they told me they listened to the station.